Business

Students' Loan Bureau takes hard line

TELL Claudienne

Sunday, September 10, 2017



Dear Claudienne,

I am writing to you with deep frustration regarding my loan from the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB). I was to have graduated from UWI in 2012; however, due to financial and other circumstances I did not graduate until 2013.

In 2011/2012, my younger sister was in the process of applying for a student loan to begin studies at UWI. While her application was being made, she was informed that I would need to request an extension for loan repayment since I would not graduate until 2013.

I applied for a status letter from the UWI Admissions Section, then submitted same along with the required documentation to the SLB, facilitated by the document drop-off system they had in place at the time. When I visited the SLB with my status letter I was advised by the security guard on duty to leave the document via the drop-off system.

Following my graduation in 2013, I did not gain employment until April 2014. After I got a job, I tried in vain to contact the SLB. When I eventually made contact with them I was threatened with legal action by collection officers who told me that my account was in arrears in excess of $400,000.

I am the only one employed in a household of five adults, and I also have to assist with supporting my parents, only one of whom is pensionable.

By the month of August I was able to gain my footing. I attempted to contact the SLB via email and telephone to begin repayment, but was unsuccessful.

In September of the same year, I was contacted by a debt collector who informed me that I was at a “crisis” point for non-payment of my student loan. In shock, I visited the SLB and spoke with the VP of the legal department. I told him that no contact was made with me prior to the call from the debt collector, and that I had in fact tried to contact them for information on how to proceed with repayment.

I was then informed that a letter had been sent to me in 2013 (which I did not receive), and that I should have begun repaying my loan in January 2013 following my graduation in 2012. The arrears were therefore being calculated from that payment date. I was extremely shocked to hear this.

I informed the officer with whom I was speaking that I did not graduate until 2013, and submitted the required documentation at the time, especially since I did not want anything to hamper my sister's ongoing application. The SLB claimed they had received no such documentation. I found this surprising, since the SLB had in fact paid over my tuition fees to UWI for the additional year I took to complete my degree, which indicates that they were aware of my new graduation date.

I was informed that I would need to pay off the arrears which amounted to over $400,000, or else legal action would be taken against me. I explained my situation and indicated that a lump sum payment would not be possible for me as at the time (I was earning about $53,000). The officer indicated that I should begin by authorising a salary deduction and make further arrangements with the loan collectors to facilitate repayment.

I argue that the SLB began calculating my repayment (as at January 2013) with accompanying interest rates, late fees and arrears ONE YEAR prior to when I should have in fact begun repayment. Based on when I graduated, the date on which repayment should have begun was January 2014.

Though I explained this to the SLB officer, I was repeatedly threatened with legal action and told that I would either have to make a lump sum payment or engage a lawyer to resolve the issue to my satisfaction. I was in no financial position to make a lump sum payment, let alone engage a lawyer.

I have made every effort, even to my personal disadvantage and disenfranchisement, to work with the SLB in repaying my loan. However, it is near impossible to make any headway with repayment, since the SLB erroneously calculated the value of my arrears on the basis of an incorrect repayment period.

I desperately need some reprieve in this matter. The situation is affecting my life in an extremely negative way, and all I am trying to do is make some progress.

My financial woes grew worse when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and I had to resign from my job in August 2016 to assist with her care.

I await any advice or assistance that you could provide in this matter. I am doing my best to resolve this issue, but have reached the stage where I cannot do it alone.

VM

Dear VM,

We contacted the SLB and they advised us that their efforts to contact you by phone were unsuccessful. In regard to your allegations about your student loan account, the SLB sent Tell Claudienne the following e-mail:

Kindly be advised that the beneficiary's account entered repayment January 1, 2013. Based on her correspondence, she has advised us that she came to the SLB to submit a letter requesting an extension of graduation date and that the security guard told her to use our drop-off system. The letter was never found, and there are no notes on our system indicating that she spoke with anyone regarding the request for a graduation date extension. The account was later referred in September 2014 to the Legal Department, due to lack of payment, after which we received the first payment in November of the same year (23 months after repayment started).

On Wednesday, June 21, 2017, our officer PL sent the beneficiary a very detailed response explaining our position and policy regarding the request for a graduation date extension. Since we have not received the requested documents from the beneficiary regarding a graduation date extension, we are not in a position to alter the original terms of the loan agreement, including the repayment start date.

Four years have now elapsed since the loan entered repayment and the account is still in arrears. We are, however, willing to work with the beneficiary to resolve her current indebtedness and as such, we want to encourage her to discuss the matter with the debt collector with a view to settle the account.

PS. I have made several attempts to call the beneficiary to no avail.

Tell Claudienne has also not been able to speak to you. However, we sent you an e-mail and you responded on August 22, 2017 as follows: “My apologies for being unreachable, I have been very ill in hospital for the past three weeks and I am just recovering and accessing my communications.”

According to the SLB, “Once a request for graduation date extension is received we require that the following documents be provided:

(1) A written and signed request for an extension of the graduation date;

(2) A written approval from all guarantors stating that they are willing to guarantee the loans for the additional period (If they have migrated or have died; he/she must be replaced);

(3) A written letter from the school stating the exact reason(s) for the extended period in school, the start date of the programme, the normal end date and the new end date;

(4) A copy of grade slip/ transcript.”

You have told Tell Claudienne that the documentation being requested by the SLB “ would be next to impossible to be attained at this point.”

Nonetheless, the acting head of the Legal Department has told us that she is willing to meet with you. Please go to see her. We hope that you can reach an agreement that will enable you to pay off the loan.

We wish you all the best.

Have a problem with a store, utility or company? Telephone 936-9436 or write to: Tell Claudienne c/o Sunday Finance, Jamaica Observer, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5; or e-mail:edwardsc@jamaicaobserver.com. Please include a contact phone number.

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